It’s my Dad’s birthday today. He’s turning 79, and in his honor I’m posting just a few of the 70 memories I wrote up for his 70th birthday. These memories actually come from somewhere in the middle of the collection, and therefore lack any clear sense of beginning or end, but I’m hoping they will inspire my readers to think of their own fathers fondly, and maybe even write down a few memories of their own, just in time for Father’s Day on Sunday.
Here we go:
- I can remember only one time that Dad spanked me, and I deserved it.
- Dad used to wrestle with all his sons at the same time (no small feat when you have five or six of them). He would drop to his hands and knees on the living room floor and we would jump on him, the younger boys taking flying leaps off the furniture. We would do our best to pull him down to the ground and, eventually, we would succeed, but not before Dad had spent a half hour peeling us off his back and tickling us till we couldn’t breathe.
- I remember standing beside Dad in church when I was older, trying to outdo him in singing the hymns. Both of us would get louder and louder till we were fairly shouting the hymns, but making joyful noise all the same, with smiles on our faces.
- Dad was inspired by my running in high school and college, and decided that he was going to run a 10-kilometer race. He went on a training run with me the next day, determined to do the full 6.2 miles, and had to stop at the top of a steep hill just long enough to lose his breakfast. Then he was off again. He ran a 10-K race in St. Albans, West Virginia, on his 46th birthday and, as far as I know, never competed again. But he wore the T-shirt forever.
- Backpacking. I took it up because of Dad. I’ve enjoyed it ever since. People who know me still can’t believe that Dad took the whole family on a sixty-mile hike when my brother Gray was just five years old. But we made it. All of us. Even Gray. And when we get together we still have stories to tell about Bear Wallow Gap, Ed’s close call with a copperhead, and the wild blueberries that grew along that magnificent trail.
- I remember the float trip we took down the Big Coal River, too. It must have been seventy miles. The first day we only made it three-and-a-half miles down the river, but it rained that night and the next day we made twenty. It was a wonderful time of floating, fishing, talking, and growing closer as family. If we had had any money we might have gone to Disney World instead, and who knows how much we would have missed.
- Dad would never admit that milk had gone sour (“blinky” we called it). If you turned up your nose at a glass of milk he would turn up the glass and drink it down. “Nothing wrong with that milk,” he would say, wiping his mouth.
- I have seen—with my own eyes—Dad eat a granddaddy longlegs spider just because we dared him to.
- I have also seen him make an open-faced jam sandwich to attract the little “billy bees” that had his family in fits of hysteria at a picnic. Once five or six bees had landed on the jam Dad slapped a piece of bread on top and had a billy bee sandwich—Mmmm, crunchy!
- The first magic trick I ever saw Dad do was the old disappearing bathrobe belt trick. He would pretend to stuff the whole thing in his mouth (stuffing it into his hand instead), and then pull it from his ear, all three or four feet of it. At three or four years old, I was amazed.
- We once hiked up old Graybeard Mountain at Montreat, or should I say Dad hiked. I was just a little boy, and although I thought I could make it, Dad took along the “Hike-a-Poose” just in case (an early version of the backpack baby carrier). It turned out I couldn’t make it, and Dad climbed most of that steep mountain with a heavy load. I’ve always regretted the burden I was on that trip, but always remembered the grace with which Dad carried me.
- Part of my love for the outdoors has come from just following Dad around. In the woods he always seemed to know the names of the birds, the trees, the plants. He always made us stop to appreciate a particularly splendid view or a tiny fiddlehead fern. His quiet insistence that we notice these things, pay attention to them, and admire them has made its lasting impression on me. I give thanks to the Creator for the wonder I see in his creation.
- I have picked up from my dad the habit of saying, “OK!” when one thing is done and I’m thinking about what to do next. I will come into a room, as he would, and announce, “OK!” Christy just looks at me. “OK, what?” she wonders.
OK, it’s time to move on to the next thing.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.